Seismic upgrades to McBride and Howay schools still await funding

Sometimes it pays to be broke.

A plan by the B.C. government to ask local school districts with extra money on hand to help pay for the seismic upgrades of schools likely won't affect New Westminster school district, said its director of facilities and operations, Doug Templeton.

It doesn't have any capital reserves.

The new policy is in response to an auditor-general's report in 2010 that found there's too much excess cash being held by public sector agencies, including school districts, said Ben Green, education ministry spokesperson. A subsequent auditor-general's report released last month reached the same conclusion.

To deal with the issue, the finance ministry launched its "cash management strategy" that requires districts to consider cost-sharing of capital and seismic projects.

That means school districts could be required to dip into funds it realizes from the sale of school properties said New West district superintendent John Gaiptman. But with space for schools in the city already tight, it doesn't anticipate any such sales happening, he said.

Two schools in New West have already been approved for seismic upgrading, but the work hasn't yet been funded. Richard McBride elementary has been assessed by a structural engineer and awaits a further report that would identity how the problems can be fixed and how much it would cost. F.W Howay will be assessed later this year, said Templeton.

"It's a long process," he said. "The ministry doesn't just want to give money away."

Templeton said upgrades to McBride would likely cost "a couple of million" dollars, including structural work and non-structural upgrades like installing laminated glass that doesn't shatter into sharp shards in entrance ways, fastening high shelves to walls, and reinforcing light fixtures suspended from ceilings with aircraft wire.

Gaiptman said it has yet to be determined if it will cost more to upgrade McBride than build a new school.

Hume Park is one of 104 high risk schools in the province that requires structural upgrades but the work hasn't yet been approved.

Templeton said the rest of the city's schools are in good shape seismically. That's because they were built in the 1980s or later, or they're wood frame construction, which is better able to withstand an earthquake.

"Older schools that are made of brick or concrete have more risk," said Templeton.

- With files from Wanda Chow


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